The English Patient

National Identity in Nationless Places College

Who we are is shaped by where we are from.

This is a common thread in the human experience; our backgrounds give way to our personalities. But what happens when a person disagrees with the confines of their nation upon their identity? The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje explores what occurs when a person attempts to break away from the mold of a homeland, and begs the question of whether or not misfits can find a place that is truly nationless, from which to carve their own identities.

Set at the close of World War II, the novel depicts a time when nationalistic tensions are high all over the world. There is, indeed, a heightened sense of national responsibility. And yet, the main characters in the novel are all trying to escape it. Hana, a young war nurse, hails from Canada. However, instead of moving forward through Italy with the rest of the nurses and the Canadian Infantry, she chooses to stay behind and care for a single, nameless man, who she simply refers to as the English Patient. This man is called “her despairing saint,” and as she cleans his naked, ruined body, she imagines he has the “hipbones of Christ” (page 3). It is clear she not only cares for him, but worships him, perhaps because he is the only thing that...

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